Racial justice

  • October 30, 2017
    Guest Post

    by Sheila Bapat, Program Director, California Bar Foundation

    California Bar Foundation has been excited to partner in the Meet Your DA event series here in California. Led by the ACLU of Northern California, this four-part event series is shining a light on the power of District Attorneys (DAs) and how prosecutors can be vehicles for social change. The final event in this series will take place in Los Angeles this week, on November 1. It has been a privilege to partner with the ACLU along with Smart Justice California and the American Constitution Society for Law & Policy to reach law students throughout the state with this message.

    California Bar Foundation’s mission is to build a better justice system -- for all Californians. We believe that every Californian deserves access to justice, and that lawyers working in this system should be representative of the communities they serve. We fund legal aid fellowship opportunities and scholarships for diverse law students throughout California who are devoted to making social change. We also fund pipeline programs throughout California to empower high school, community college and college youth to consider careers in the law.

  • October 25, 2017
    Guest Post

    by Reuben Guttman, Founding member, Guttman,Buschner & Brooks PLLC

    *This piece was originally posted on Huffington Post.

    There is a scene in the movie Private Parts – the life and career of Howard Stern – where NBC officials, committed to dumping the shock jock, check out the latest ratings and learn, to their dismay, that the DJ’s popularity has rocketed. Pouring through the data, they find that the “number one reason” people tune into Stern is because they are waiting to hear what he will say next.

    For all the time that Donald Trump spent on the Stern show, this may be the one lesson he learned. From North Korea’s “rocket man” to “crooked Hillary,” and a dash of Ryan and McConnell bashing, people tune in to this President to hear what he will say or tweet next. For their part, the members of the news media seem to fixate on Trumpian commotion.

  • October 2, 2017
    Guest Post

    by Gregg Ivers, Professor of Government, American University

    In early September 1957, Central High School in Little Rock became the focus of world-wide attention when Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus decided to deploy the National Guard to prevent the nine African American students who had applied and been chosen to integrate the school from entering the building. For a three week period, the Central High grounds resembled the set of a science fiction film of the era – upright American soldiers with bayonet-tipped rifles protecting innocent children from an alien force in their midst. Finally, on September 25th, the Little Rock Nine, now with the support of a federalized Arkansas National Guard and the 101st Airborne Division – activated and sent to Little Rock by President Dwight D. Eisenhower – were escorted into Central High to begin a school year that they and everyone else in Little Rock would never forget.

    The Little Rock crisis did not escape the attention of former Brooklyn Dodger Jackie Robinson. Just over nine years before, Robinson entered, almost overnight, into the lives of white America when he became the first African American to penetrate one of the most sacrosanct citadels of white supremacy – professional baseball. On April 15th, 1947, when Robinson jogged to first base on Opening Day at Ebbets Field, he did more than just break the color barrier in what was then America’s most popular sport. He destroyed it.

  • June 19, 2017
    Guest Post

    *This piece originally appeared on JOTWELL.

    by SpearIt, Associate Professor of Law, Thurgood Marshall School of Law

    Devon W. Carbado, From Stopping Black People to Killing Black People: The Fourth Amendment Pathways to Police Violence, 105 Cal. L. Rev. 125 (2017), available at SSRN.

    Why is it so easy for police to kill Black people?

    The answer to this question is urgent in light of ongoing police violence across the country. Virulent videos of Blacks subjected to police aggression have spread nationwide by phones, computers, TVs and tablets. These troubling, yet spectacular visuals, have pulled the covers back to allow mainstream America to see the dark and ruthless nature of law enforcement. Unarmed Blacks have senselessly died by strangling, tasing, and shooting in the back at the hands of police. Recently reported was an unarmed man shot despite his being on the ground with hands raised in surrender. Another was reportedly killed despite lawfully carrying a firearm. The ample proof of police wrongdoing raises alarming flags about the status quo, where police killing of Blacks is prevalent and successful prosecution of police is not.

    In this article, Devon Carbado offers a compelling answer. He asserts that Fourth Amendment doctrine paves a path for police to engage civilians, especially Blacks, in ways that escalate into violence and death. Police officers are embodied with various levels of discretion in their enforcement efforts, and can be motivated by social motives, including cultural biases. Carbado shows, with meticulous detail, how Fourth Amendment doctrine leaves racism virtually unchecked in policing practices. Rulings by the Supreme Court on search and seizure make it clear that where police have a pretext to stop a person on the street or in a vehicle, the seizure is lawful so long as the officer has a requisite level of suspicion to make the stop. That there is little constitutionally to curb the police’s use of discretionary power when choosing one person over another puts a sarcastic twist on the meaning of “con” law.

  • December 29, 2016
    Guest Post

    by Christopher Kang, ACS Board Member and National Director of the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans

    Supporters of Sen. Jeff Sessions’s nomination to become attorney general defend his civil rights record by pointing to his role in passing the Fair Sentencing Act, which reduced the disparity between sentences for crack and powder cocaine offenses. In the context of Sen. Sessions’s overall civil rights record and his opposition to criminal justice reform, even full-throated leadership on this issue would not be enough to overcome concerns about him becoming our nation’s top law enforcement officer, but given efforts to use this law to deflect from that overall record, a closer look is necessary. I was the lead White House legislative affairs staffer on the Fair Sentencing Act and I can tell you that Sen. Sessions’s efforts were only somewhat helpful—and since then have been a far cry from leadership.

    Background and History

    In 1986, Congress established new sentences for cocaine offenses: possession of five grams of crack cocaine (roughly the weight of two sugar cubes) triggered a mandatory minimum five-year sentence, while trafficking 500 grams (approximately one pound) of powder cocaine triggered the same sentence. This disparity was often referred to as a 100:1 ratio and because more than 80 percent of crack cocaine offenders have been African American, the disparity has had an undeniable racial impact.

    In 2001, Sen. Sessions introduced legislation to reduce this disparity to 20:1. However, his approach was to only slightly increase the amount of crack cocaine necessary to trigger a mandatory minimum sentence—and to couple that with decreasing the amount of powder cocaine necessary to trigger a mandatory minimum sentence.